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Lancaster-native Sam Hagins is top federal energy engineer

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By Greg Summers

The Thomas E. Creek VA Medical Center in Amarillo, Texas, is saving more than $245,000 in taxpayer money each year on its power bills, thanks to energy-saving systems designed by Lancaster native Sam Hagins.

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A 1977 graduate of Lancaster High School, Hagins has been named the 2018 Federal Energy Engineer of the Year.

He figured out a way to use the 170-bed facility’s air conditioning system at night to create 32,000 gallons of ice slush every 24 hours and then use that stored slush to cool the hospital during the day under the baking West Texas sun.

It’s a 180-degree turn in the way the system was intended to be used. The air conditioners run at maximum power load after dark.        

“It’s not as much efficiency as it is about saving money on our power bill,” Hagins said.

Hagins, who has electrical engineering degrees from the University of South Carolina and the University of Dayton, has been at Amarillo since 2007. 

If his name has a familiar ring, it should. He is the son of Sara Hagins and the late L.E. “Sonny” Hagins, who co-owned the old Porter-Belk Lumber Co. in Lancaster, which closed several years ago. The Hagins family has been tied to the building and construction industry here for three generations, and his younger brother, Jeff, runs City Builders in Rock Hill.   

Sam Hagins served in the Air Force for 12 years until 1997, when he went to work for the military branch as a civilian engineer at Sheppard Air Force Base.

Going green

While in energy management at the Creek VA Medical Center, Hagins also designed and headed up another energy project that is reaping dividends. 

Solar panels were mounted in the parking lots almost 10 feet off the ground to catch the sun and help power the facility. The panels double as covered parking canopies for patients. The novel approach also avoided the need for environmental impact studies.

“Putting solar panels on a roof is OK until the roof needs replacing,” Hagins said. Putting solar panels in the parking lot, he said, resulted in fewer issues because they aren’t impacting wildlife or the environment.

“The veterans enjoy the covered parking since it shades their cars here in the hot West Texas, and the employees working night shifts like it because we have LED lighting under the park canopies for more security at night,” he said.  

Hagins noted that the panels are now producing more than a third of the center’s total energy consumption. And on days when the panels produce more energy than is needed, the excess kilowatt hours are exported back to a local utility provider.

“We occasionally have net zero energy consumption…. This usually happens on cool, sunny weekends or holidays when our kilowatt demand is lower than usual.”  

Hagins’ innovative designs are drawing both state and national accolades. 

Last year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recognized the facility as a leader in energy efficiency and pollution prevention. 

In 2014, Hagins and his staff received a Federal Energy and Water Management Award for their energy-saving initiatives.  

The “higher-ups,” he said, have been particularly supportive of the “covered parking idea, since no hospital roofs were being penetrated.” 

This isn’t the first time that Hagins’ design skills have come in handy and saved taxpayer money.

While assigned to Robbins Air Force Base during Operation Desert Storm, Hagins and a team of civilian designers were assigned to fix malfunctioning airborne videotape recorders that were under the seat of fighter aircraft. The VCR-type recorders, which capture the “bird’s eye” view of precision bombing raids, were failing after 250 hours of use.

The team redesigned the recorder motors with new bearings and bushings. Once the new motors were installed in the recorders, they were still working after 1,000 hour of use, saving the Air Force more than $320,000 a year.

Hagins is married to the former Victoria Gallo, whom he met while assigned at Holloman Air Force in New Mexico. The Haginses have two teenage sons and try to make it back home to Lancaster once a year.

 

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.